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It is near certain that the latest Star Wars movie, Rogue One, is going to be one of the biggest hits of the holiday season and the year. It is nice to be able to report that this is not a case of a studio (in this case, Disney) simply cashing in on an established franchise with a movie that has familiar elements but little originality or style. In fact, Rogue One has a lot of familiar elements and even some familiar faces (some of them created via computer technology), but it also has its own style and tries to be as original as possible within the boundaries of an existing and popular mythology.

In the event you've been living in a cave, or in another galaxy, in recent months, let me recap the Rogue One backstory. Remember how in the original Star Wars there was a crawl in the beginning that explained how in a period of civil war with rebel forces struggling against the totalitarian Galactic Empire, "Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the Death Star, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet?" And remember how that original StarWarsactually was positioned as episode four in a saga, and how episode three, made decades later, ended with the "birth" of Darth Vader, setting up the conditions for the bloody rebellion?

Well ... Rogue One essentially is the story of what happened between episodes three and four, explaining to us how the Death Star plans were stolen and why one tiny space fighter was able to destroy such a fearsome space station all by itself. In other words, it is all backstory - Rogue One is not part of the main mythology, and therefore does not have some of the consistent touches (like the opening text crawl and John Williams music) that we've seen in the seven main films to date.

But it is a thrilling backstory, albeit one that is grimmer and darker than the main Star Wars films to date. No Wookies or Ewoks or other child-friendly characters here, though the movie's heroine, Jyn Erso, certainly is someone to whom children and adults can relate - she's tough and rebellious and follows a character arc from cynicism to hope that reminds us of Luke Skywalker and Rey while being an entirely original creation by actress Felicity Jones.

I hate plot-spoiling movie reviews, so let me just tell you this much. Rogue One is very much a war movie; while not bloody or graphic, we're aware of the fact that armed conflicts cost lives, that they are gritty and messy, that they have enormous stakes, and that all the good guys don't always win or survive. In the original films, destruction often was seen from light years away; here, when a city is destroyed, we see it from the ground, and it ain't pretty. (It is, however, visually spectacular.) The picture is directed with great assurance by Gareth Edwards, written with an eye for detail by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy, and features some terrific, sharply etched performances by the likes of Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Forest Whitaker, Mads Mikkelsen, and Donnie Chen, as well as Jones. (This is a far more diverse galaxy than the one originally conceived by George Lucas, and that's a good thing.)

Mostly, Rogue One is exciting and fun and a worthy component of the Star Wars saga, even if a bit of a narrative detour. (In 2017 we'll get episode eight in the main saga, and in 2019 another standalone film that will feature a young Han Solo. I'm already excited.) And it has a certain heavy-breathing baddie who shows up in a few brief scenes as a kind of connective tissue that reminds us of where we've been and where we're going, and how far he most go to obtain redemption.




One other Rogue One note. There have been some suggestions in social media that the movie has scenes that were rewritten and reshot so that Rogue One is anti-Trump. The people making these comments, and calling for a boycott, are fools. The only good news is that their incessant whining will be about as sustainable as Jar Jar Binks.





That's it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I'll see you Monday.

Slàinte!
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